Host City: MontrÃ©al, Canada
Venue(s): Olympic Pool, MontrÃ©al, QuÃ©bec
Date Started: July 24, 1976
Date Finished: July 25, 1976
In 1974-75 the top distance swimmer in the world was Australian [Jenny Turrall], who won the 1975 World Championships in Cali, Colombia, and set the 800 freestyle world record in London in March. She had also set five world records in the 1,500 freestyle, a non-Olympic event. But in 1976, East German [Petra ThÃ¼mer] had broken Turrall's 800 record with 8:40.68 in Berlin in June. Seventeen days later that mark was bettered by American [Shirley Babashoff], who had been runner-up to Turrall at the 1975 Worlds. The three were expected to contest the medals in the 800 freestyle in MontrÃ©al, but Turrall had shoulder problems coming into the Olympics and was not as good as she had been in 1975.
ThÃ¼mer qualified fastest followed by surprise American [Nicole Kramer]. Babashoff won heat three, closely trailed by Turrall. The final was led by Canadian [Shannon Smith] through the first 300 metres, but Babashoff and ThÃ¼mer then took over. They were in lanes 4-5, swimming as doubles, with two-beat kicks and bi-lateral breathing, and there was never open water between them. But in the end, the result was the same as it had been five days earlier in the 400 freestyle, ThÃ¼mer winning gold in world record time (8:37.14), with Babashoff in second, also under the old world mark. The bronze went to the unheralded American [Wendy Weinberg]. Turrall was never a factor as she struggled home in last place in the final.